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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       235
the dining-room. In the corridor Zina was reading the
communique of the Soviet Information Bureau that was
posted on the wall. Alexei walked past her without a
word of greeting. She pretended not to see him and
merely shrugged her shoulders pettishly. But when he
had passed her, without really having seen her, she felt
hurt and, almost in tears, called him. Alexei angrily
blurted out over his shoulder:
"Well, what do you want?"
"Comrade Senior Lieutenant, who do you..." answered
the girl softly, flushing so furiously that the colour of her
cheeks almost matched her hair.
Alexei at once recovered his temper and his whole
body suddenly seemed to sag.
"My fate is to be decided today," he said in a low
voice. "Shake hands and wish me luck...."
Limping more than usual, he went to his room and
locked himself in.
The commission sat in the recreation hall to which
had been brought all its paraphernaliaŚrespiration me-
ters, handgrip meters, sight-testing cards, and so forth.
The entire population of the sanatorium gathered out-
side the room, and those who wished to cut short their
sick leave, that is, nearly all the convalescents, formed
up in a long line. Zinochka, however, came along and
handed each one a slip indicating the hour and minute
when he would be called and asked them all to disperse.
After the first men had been before the commission, the
rumour went round that the inspection was slight and that
the commission was not very strict. And how could the
commission be strict when such a terrific battle was rag-
ing on the Volga and greater and greater effort was
called for? Alexei sat dangling his feet on the low brick
wall in front of the porch, and when anybody came out
he inquired nonchalantly, as if not particularly interested:
"Well, how did you get on?"
"I've passed!" the person would answer cheerfully,
buttoning his tunic or tightening his belt.
Burnazyan went in before Meresyev. He left his stick
outside the door and stepped into the room, trying not
to swing his body and not to limp on his short leg. He
was kept a long time. At last angry exclamations reached